Is Omicron BA.2 foiling your plans to get your team back to the workplace? With the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, employers face more challenges thanks to the Omicron BA.2 variant. Many businesses are now asking if they should proceed with or abandon plans to return their employees to the workplace at this current time and where employees are already back in the workplace, whether to send them back to working from home. Previous articles addressed issues such as directing staff back to the workplace, COVID-19 isolation rules, managing absenteeism due to COVID, supporting mental health during COVID and implementing COVID Vaccination Policies. Visit our website at to read these earlier articles. The solution to this current dilemma requires a risk management approach to balance the interests of the business and all stakeholders. This week we call out some key HR and WHS risks for your business to consider and some proposed measures to help you with your decision making. Returning to the Workplace: Key Risks:
  • COVID-19 transmission in the workplace for employees and visitors
  • Absenteeism and staff shortage due to illness and contact with COVID-19
  • Possibility of work cover claims
  • Employee refusal to return to the workplace based on their perceived WHS concerns
  • Turnover as a result of employee expectations to continue working from home for all or some of the time not just when COVID-19 transmission is high
Suggested solutions:
  • Develop and implement, in consultation with workers, a robust COVID safe plan providing for risk measures such as physical distancing and increased hygiene and sanitation
  • Implement a rotational approach with specific teams attending the workplace on set days to limit the number of people in the workplace at a given time and mitigate against COVID-19 transmission across the entire workforce
  • Provide employees with training in infection control
  • Implement a policy to prevent symptomatic workers from coming to the workplace and a sick leave policy to curb unwarranted absences
  • If a public health order does not pertain, consider implementing a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy in consultation with workers. Keep in mind that to meet the Fair Work Commission’s requirement to be a lawful and reasonable direction by an employer, the policy must:
    • be focused on ensuring the health and safety of workers in the workplace
    • be reasonably proportionate as a response to the risk created by COVID-19
    • be specific to the circumstances of the workplace
    • take into consideration the COVID-19 transmission rates in the community at the time of implementation.
The policy should outline how exceptions will be managed, including those required under the Anti-Discrimination legislation
  • Provide leaders and managers with training in employment relations. Employees cannot refuse to return to the workplace based on WHS concerns unless there is an immediate or imminent serious exposure to a hazard. They cannot simply refuse to work with an unvaccinated co-worker. Understanding the rules and how these employee relations issues can be managed fair and reasonably is a must.
Continued Remote & Hybrid Working: Key Risks
  • WHS in the home office, including ergonomics and mental health and well being
  • IT security in the home and the increased prevalence of cyber security attacks
  • Domestic violence occurring in the home
  • Increased feelings of isolation and lack of connection with colleagues and management can impact mental health and wellbeing as well as company culture
  • Waning productivity and burnout as fatigue continues to plague Australian workforces during the COVID pandemic and the boundaries between home life and work-life continue to be blurred.
Suggested Solutions:
  • Implement a Work from Home Policy
  • Have all workers who are working at home complete a Work from Home Checklist and provide a visual inspection of their home office via photos or a short video.
  • Implement a Technology Policy
  • Provide WHS training to employees, reminding them that your WHS policies still apply, including hazard and incident reporting
  • Implement an onboarding process for new recruits that ensures there is opportunity to build relationships, even if online, together with support to settle into the new role
  • Conduct surveys to check the pulse of the workforce
  • Schedule regular 1:1 meetings in person or online, to check-in and establish whether people feel connected and are working towards their objectives
  • Create an online meeting policy to make sure that everyone at a meeting, whether attending in person or online, has the opportunity to speak and contribute as well as being considerate of “Zoom Burnout”
  • Provide training to your leaders and managers on how to manage for outcomes instead of outputs to make sure required productivity levels are continuously improved
  • Implement culture building initiatives such as regular team building events that can take place in person and online.
If your business needs help with assessing the pros and cons of “for or against” returning to the workplace or, if you need guidance and assistance with assessing risks and implementing solutions, reach out to us at or on 1300 287 360 for a confidential discussion.